Taming the Bear; A Stanley Cup Final Preview

The Chicago Blackhawks pose with the Clarence S. Campbell trophy after defeating the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in double overtime. - Jonathan Daniel

After a record-setting regular season and three postseason rounds, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves four wins against the Boston Bruins away from bringing the cup back to Chicago. Here's a preview to give you an idea of what to expect when both teams finally hit the ice on Wednesday.

So the Blackhawks have made the Stanley Cup Final. That's pretty neat, if I do say so myself. Expectations for this team were sky-high thanks to the The Streak. Essentially, it was Stanley Cup or bust. Well, they're almost there. But almost only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, nukes, and teenage sex. Following a hilarious sweep of the Penguins, Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins will be the tallest and ultimate task the Blackhawks will face. It's going to be an awesome yet stressful series to watch. Before the blood pressure rises and the massive coronaries begin, why not take a moment and familiarize yourself with this series and the men in black and gold? Who knows, maybe it'll help ease the tension. Or maybe it won't. Either way, let's get right down to business shall we? (Forgive the formatting, I'm an SB Nation rookie)

Blackhawks Schedule

Boston Wed 06/12 7:00 PM CDT
Boston Sat 06/15 7:00 PM CDT
@ Boston Mon 06/17 7:00 PM CDT
@ Boston Wed 06/19 7:00 PM CDT
Boston Sat 06/22 7:00 PM CDT
@ Boston Mon 06/24 7:00 PM CDT
Boston Wed 06/26 7:00 PM CDT


The Bruins lines and pairings look the same as they did in game 4 against Pittsburgh.



Follow the link for a complete list of Boston generic postseason player stats.

Here's a list of Blackhawks generic postseason player stats.

As an aside, go bother Sarah Connors over at fellow SB Nation site Stanley Cup Of Chowder. No seriously, bother her.

Forwards

Everybody likes to downplay the Bruins' offense because they are primarily a defensive team and don't really have any superstar type names that everybody knows. But don't be fooled by Boston's lack of household names, this group of forwards can get it done. They put 34.8 5v5 shots/60 on net, second only to their Quebecois rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. At even strength, they put up a league-leading 2.9 goals/60. Like I said, their forwards are not a weakness. As a group, they are a physical bunch and the Blackhawks will have to play a similar game to the one they did against the Kings. That means keeping the puck off the boards and using short outlet passes to the supporting forwards to do so. The biggest difference between the Kings forwards and the Bruins forwards is that the Bruins forwards actually score. David Krejci leads all postseason forwards with 21 points and his linemate Nathan Horton is right behind him with 17. Milan Lucic has finally remembered that he is good at hockey after a pretty bad regular season and has 13 points on Krejci's left.

The first line is going to be a pain for Keith and Seabrook, whom I'm assuming they'll be paired against, but the forward that scares me the most plays on their second line; Patrice Bergeron. This guy is a flat-out monster who excels at both ends of the ice, particularly in his own end. He's put up a 22.55 Corsi through 16 games while playing with douchenozzle extraordinaire Brad Marchand and older than all holy hell Jaromir Jagr. He finishes 56.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone despite starting 45% of his shifts in his own. For cripe's sake, the man held Sidney Crosby to zero points in four games, as well as assisted on and scored some unbelievably timely goals throughout the spring. He's going to be a huge pain for the Blackhawks to deal with.

Seguin has been a no-show for this year's playoffs. It's part of the reason he's all the way down on their third line. But he is just too good of a player to be held in check for this long. This dormant beast may soon be awakened and if it does, Leddy and Rozsival are going to have to play the best hockey we've ever seen them play in order to contain him.

Defensemen

The Bruins play a primarily defensive game and their defensemen are pretty darn good at what they do. They have limited opponents to 29.6 5v5 shots/60 and only 1.6 5v5 goals/60. It all starts with their top pairing and more specifically, Zdeno Chara. Chara is easily one of the top three defenders in the game, if not the best. His size coupled with his positional soundness make him very hard to beat. The other half of the first pairing isn't exactly a slouch either. Dennis Seidenberg is consistently one of the most underrated defensemen in the game. You'd think after being underrated for long enough that he'd eventually get the recognition he deserves. But I digress. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Ronny Pickles are going to have a very tough time beating Chardenberg, especially if Bergeron will be matched up against them. I doubt they'll be a non-factor simply because it's DDN, but it'll certain be the biggest challenge they've faced so far.

The second pairing is also going to be a handful. Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference are both good at what they do. They've combined for a 10.07 Corsi so far in these playoffs and are both extremely physical. And by physical, I mean it's going to be a shitshow for the Blackhawks if they can't avoid their physicality or take advantage of their slower tendencies. It'll be up to Hossa, Sharp, and Handzus to outskate these guys and put some pucks on Rask because DDN and Pickles are probably going to be pretty stifled.

McQuiad and Krug have played pretty sheltered minutes - Krug at 69.8% offensive zone shift starts and McQuaid at 62.0% - and will probably match up against the Blackhawks third and fourth lines. Kruger and Frolik will probably see a lot of Krug, especially on the PK as Krug has provided a bit of a spark to a Bruins PP that is just as bad as the Blackhawks'.

Overall, I think the Blackhawks will need to take advantage of any space the Bruins defensemen gives them and have solid offensive zone entries and possessions focused on beating the Bruins with their speed and skilled passing.

Goaltending

Two of the best playoff goaltenders will meet in the Cup Final; Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford. Rask is the better goaltender of the two, and that's not even a debate for me, but Crawford has more than held his own in these playoffs. Rask leads all playoff goaltenders with a .943 save percentage, .008 percentage points better than the number two, Corey Crawford. Crawford leads playoff netminders with a 1.74 GAA. Rask trails him by .001 percentage point. Crawford makes all of the saves he's supposed to and then a bunch he shouldn't. Rask makes all of the saves he's supposed to, a bunch he shouldn't, and a couple that make you drop your jaw. This isn't a knock on Corey but if either goaltender has a shot at stealing the series, it's going to be Rask. With that said, the Blackhawks faced another otherworldly goaltender last round and found a way to hang him a 2.80 GAA and a .897 save percentage for the series. The Bruins are going to be to be tougher on defense in front of Rask than the Kings were in front of Quick, but I feel if the Hawks can find a way to pepper enough shots on the Fin, especially on the PP where he sports a .911 save percentage, the floodgates will open. Park Bickell's fat ass in front of Rask and get the puck on net and good things may happen, my frents. Take that to the bank. Or something.

Special Teams

This is pretty easy. The Blackhawks suck on the powerplay and so do the Bruins. The Blackhawks score 4.3 PP goals/60 and the Bruins score 5.2 PP goals/60. The Blackhawks don't suck on the penalty kill and neither do the Bruins. The Blackhawks allow 1.7 goals/60 on the PK and the Bruins allow 4.7 goals/60 on the PK. Basically, when either team is on the power play it's going to be an impotent force slamming headfirst against an immovable object. The Blackhawks have the advantage on the PK since it's practically on another planet right now. Despite this, they'll have to avoid the stupidity that will surely entail when Dave Bolland, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Andrew Shaw, and I guess Duncan Keith all play in the same game.The Hawks let up approximately 51.0 shots/60 on the PK which is middle of the road compared to the other playoff teams but Crawford has been the biggest reason they've only allowed 3 PP goals. He leads all playoff goaltenders with a .967 save percentage when shorthanded, which is .008 points better than the number two guy, Tomas Vokoun of all people. He's going to need to continue his elite level of play on the PK if they plan on winning this series.

Summary and Predictions

When the teams line up for the final handshake of the 2012-2013 season, I think the Blackhawks will be the ones with the oversized grins on their faces. I believe the Blackhawks' speed and skill will eventually overcome the Bruins physicality and defensive game, much like it did against the Kings. The Blackhawks will win the series in 6 games. That's my worthless prediction so feel free to flame it starting.......NOW.

After a regular season you'll tell your grandkids about and a playoff run you'll never forget, this is it. This is what we've all been waiting for. All this storybook year needs is the proverbial icing on the cake.

This is going to be a helluva Stanley Cup Final. It's going to be nasty. It's going to be brutal. There's going to be a lot of uncomfortable clenching in uncomfortable places. Will it all be worth it? Definitely. Because it's the Cup.

Let's go Hawks.

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